OTTAWA - In a highly unusual move, a federal judge has ordered Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to accept the transfer to Canada of a prisoner serving his sentence in a U.S. jail — saying the minister only "paid lip service" to a previous ruling.
Federal Court Justice Luc Martineau has given Toews 45 days to approve the transfer request of Yves LeBon, a Quebec man currently in a Georgia prison for cocaine possession.
Martineau concluded Toews "wanted to punish" LeBon, who has a wife and son in Boisbriand, Que., because he was caught transporting a large quantity of drugs and did not provide the names of his accomplices.
"The minister has shown a bias and has ignored the clear evidence on record supporting a transfer," Martineau wrote in his judgment made public Friday.
"The continued refusal of the applicant's transfer request has had a serious impact on him, including alienation from his family and support network, frustration of his rehabilitation and deprivation of superior programming in a Canadian prison."
Yavar Hameed, LeBon's lawyer, said Friday that Toews' attitude flies in the face of the desire of lawmakers to see offenders rehabilitated and eased back into society.
"I think it's indicative of the moralistic resistance that the minister has to abiding by the clear intent of Parliament," Hameed said.
The Conservatives have taken a much tougher stand on transfer approvals than previous governments, prompting numerous court cases.
LeBon entered New York state by car in August 2007 and was stopped in Illinois a few days later by a state trooper who discovered 119 kilograms of cocaine inside the vehicle.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five additional years of supervised release after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute the drug and improper entry into the U.S.
LeBon spent time behind bars in Pennsylvania, but was recently moved to Georgia, said Hameed.
In March 2009, U.S. authorities approved his request for a move to a Canadian facility under the International Transfer of Offenders Act, but the following year Toews turned his application down.
In weighing such requests, the minister is supposed to consider whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a security threat, the chance he might commit a "criminal organization" offence and whether he has social ties or family in Canada, among other factors.
Last April the Federal Court of Appeal found Toews' decision was unreasonable and ordered him to reconsider his refusal. But the minister again turned LeBon down.
The latest ruling says Toews basically reasserted his previous reasoning to support his opinion that LeBon was likely to commit an organized crime offence — despite extensive new evidence to the contrary "favouring rehabilitation and an absence of risk."
Martineau noted Toews was not swayed by updated assessments by the Correctional Service of Canada, the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Toews acknowledged points in LeBon's favour — that it was his first offence, along with his strong social ties, his good behaviour in prison and the fact his sentence was reduced for admitting responsibility.
But the minister said there was an "important risk" that LeBon would commit an organized crime offence, inferring from the distance he drove and the quantity of drugs that at least two other people were involved in an apparent illicit transaction. He also noted LeBon refused to name his accomplices in his transfer application and did not provide a declaration to police after his arrest.
The judge found the minister's reasoning "spurious, illogical, speculative and not evidence-based." He said there was no evidence on which to conclude LeBon was anything more than a drug mule.
Martineau also pointed out there is evidence, based on LeBon's U.S. prison record, that he has no intention of further involvement in any criminal conspiracy.
In addition, the judge rejected the notion LeBon's transfer would discredit the administration of justice in Canada, as Toews had claimed.
"I do not believe that on the guise of the 'administration of justice,' the minister can refuse a transfer request because an applicant is not willing to act as an information for the police or jail authorities," Martineau wrote.
Under the judge's order, Toews must confirm in writing to LeBon that all reasonable steps have been taken for his prompt transfer to a Canadian correctional facility.
Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Toews, said the minister's office was reviewing the decision and that it would be inappropriate to comment further.
7. Strong, Stable Majority Government
Majority governments are by definition strong and stable, so this talking point essentially means nothing. Do the Tories really think they'll win another majority by reminding us they already have one?
6. The NDP's Illegal Union Donations
Curious about the questionable campaign fundraising done by Tory ministers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/tag/peter-penashue">Peter Penashue</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/dean-del-mastro">Dean Del Mastro</a>? Well the Conservatives have an answer for you. The NDP is much, much worse. While the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/27/ndp-union-sponsorship-donations-returned-elections-canada_n_1834802.html">New Democrats did pay back nearly $350,000 in sponsorship money from unions</a> after Elections Canada found the party guilty of violating campaign finance laws, that doesn't give the Tories the right to ignore legitimate questions about their own fundraising practices. Then again, why answer questions when you can just blame the other guy?
5. Alexandre Boulerice's Separatist Past
When NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice asks the government something in question period he usually already knows the Tories' answer. 'Remember when you were a separatist?' <a href="http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Politics/2012/06/08/19854701.html">Boulerice has long since admitted he used to sympathize with separatists</a> and it's time for the Tories (we're looking at you Pierre Poilievre) to let this one go.
4. Liberals Are The Only Ones To Be Found Guilty Of Misleading Robocalls
Instead of answering questions about allegations of misleading robocalls during the 2011 election, the Tories generally pivot and remind people the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/24/liberal-robocall-fine-guelph-crtc_n_1827915.html">Liberals are the only party that has actually been found guilty of phone-call shenanigans</a>. While this is true, it doesn't erase the fact that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/robocalls-scandal">Elections Canada's investigation seems to have a fair bit to do with the CPC</a>. Canadians deserve to know what really happened on election day, but the Tories seem content to remind us of their rival's misdeeds. Let's hope all that ends in 2013.
3. No Money Has Been Spent On The F-35 Acquisition
No answer regarding the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/f-35">now-scuttled acquisition of the F-35</a> is complete without reminding the audience that no money has been spent on the purchase. Well, as long as you don't count <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/06/05/opposition-parties-hammer-conservative-government-over-f-35-press-conference-that-cost-taxpayers-47000/">all the cash spent on the flashy press conference in 2010 when Peter MacKay got to sit in the cockpit</a> right? Wouldn't it be more accurate to say plenty of money has been spent trying to replace Canada's ageing CF-18s, it's just that none of it has actually been on new planes? The Tories aren't fooling anyone here. It's time to admit mistakes were made.
2. One Of The Strongest Economies In The Developed World
Concerned about a housing bubble? Worried about Canada's shift toward a more resource-based economy? Put those fears to rest, things are much worse everywhere else. At least, that's what the Tories keep telling us. But are they really? Two problems: 1. Were the Tories responsible for the relative stability of Canada's banking system after the crash? Not so much. The <a href="http://m.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/top-business-stories/ban-on-bank-mergers-helped-canada-withstand-crash-imf-says/article4600686/?service=mobile">IMF has credited regulations introduced by former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin in the 1990s</a>. 2. Things are now <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/12/01/canada-us-economy-gdp_n_2220164.html">better in the U.S., at least in terms of GDP growth, than they are here</a>. The U.S.'s GDP grew nearly 5 times faster than Canada's in the third quarter of 2012. It's time for the Tories to admit that while Canada weathered the economic crisis well, the country now faces new problems that will require new solutions and not more tired talking points.
1. Job-Killing Carbon Tax
Even though the <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/09/21/a-rough-guide-to-the-conservatives-carbon-tax-farce/">NDP has never proposed a carbon tax</a>, the Tories continue to hammer this talking point home every chance they get. Got a question about the F-35? Remind them about the carbon tax. Allegations of misleading robocalls? Did we tell you about the carbon tax? The phrase has become such a predictable refrain that it has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/08/conservative-ad-carbon-tax-video_n_2092524.html">inspired one of the most dangerous drinking games in Ottawa's history</a>. Let's hope this one evaporates in 2013.